WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Winning The Future. Greater Together. We Don’t Quit.
They may not be official but those are all phrases that could in one form or another be candidates to become President Barack Obama’s re-election slogan.
Advisers say a fresh slogan to replace the winning “Change we can believe in” mantra of 2008, is unlikely to appear before Obama knows who his Republican opponent will be and starts big campaign travel swings, likely in the spring or summer.
His campaign posters now say simply, “Obama 2012.”
But Obama’s surrogates have roadtested some slogans in recent months, including “Winning The Future,” which the White House used to promote its budget, and “Greater Together,” which the campaign has used to brand its youth outreach effort.
A new tagline will have to reflect a new reality.
Obama is no longer a Washington outsider, unemployment is falling but still high, and economic insecurity for many voters is a huge concern that a simple slogan cannot overcome.
Obama is aware of that difficulty. He still refers to his old slogan at campaign fundraisers, emphasizing the “change” he has achieved, while dropping lines that could be test runs for a pitch to convince voters to give him another term.
“When you think about change that we can believe in, as hard as these last three years have been, don’t underestimate the changes we’ve made,” Obama said at a fundraiser in California this week.
“Inspiration is wonderful, nice speeches are wonderful, pretty posters, that’s great. But what’s required at the end of the day to create the kind of country we want is stick-to-it-ness. It’s determination. It’s saying, ‘We don’t quit.'”
In his State of the Union address last month, the president also played up the issue of economic fairness, which branding experts said could encapsulate his 2012 pitch.
“Owning ‘fairness’ is a powerful idea, but getting that idea communicated in a clear, sticky way is very hard,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of marketing firm Landor Associates.
“Telling that story is more difficult than telling a ‘change’ story because you have to define fairness for who, and what’s unfair, and why is fairness important. Change was a brutally simple idea.”
After three years of governing - fulfilling some promises and breaking others - the word “change” is a tricky brand for the president to espouse.
But Obama’s advisers say his philosophies are still the same, even if the words associated with them from 2008 are not part of this year’s campaign tagline.
“This election is also about hope and about change. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be in the slogan,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s message guru and senior campaign strategist.
“But the president has a very hopeful, optimistic view about this country, even with all the challenges we have, and is working toward that.”
The importance of a crisp message is not lost on Obama’s team. Political branding has been critical to defining and winning U.S. presidential elections since as far back as 1840 when the William Henry Harrison-John Tyler ticket rode to victory with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”
Not all slogans clicked with voters.
Former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate who lost to George W. Bush in 2000, did not make waves with “People Not The Powerful” or “I Will Fight For You.”
Senator John McCain, Obama’s Republican challenger in 2008, captured his personal story with “Country First” but did not touch the public in the way his better-branded opponent did.
Advertising executives cited Republican President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning again in America” message in 1984 as a brand that resonated - and for an incumbent president, no less.
“(That) communicated this notion that Reagan had declared success and now it was time to celebrate a new day in America and give Reagan four more years to complete the task,” said Denis Riney, a senior partner with Brandlogic, a firm that advises large corporations.
“Obama could benefit from something in a similar vein.”
Republican candidates are trying to go with simple branding ideas too, and most of them have adopted themes that suggest the United States under Obama is on the wrong track.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney uses “Believe in America,” former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has “Rebuilding the American Dream” plastered on his bus, and U.S. Representative Ron Paul proposes to “Restore America Now.”
Branding experts said it was smart for Obama to keep his slogan under wraps until his opponent was clear. Targeting a catchphrase to contrast with Romney could be different from aiming one at former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, for example. Santorum is leading among Republicans in some national polls.
Axelrod, who would not tip his hand on what Obama’s slogan would be, said the message from all the Republicans was different from that of the Democratic White House occupant.
“I listen to these Republicans speak and they have such a dark, grinding kind of view of this country,” he said.
“We have a lot of strengths in this country. We’ve got a lot of challenges, but we’ve also got a lot of strengths, and we’re going to work our way through this moment. But that will require change, and those changes are changes that we have to continue.”
It may not be catchy, but “changes that we have to continue” may at least be a start.